Map of the Month: How Much Land Is Protected for Biodiversity?

The map of the month series on Resource Watch explores open source maps on the state of the planet’s natural resources, biodiversity, commerce and people. Our analysts curate data sets that are peer-reviewed or based on transparent, established methodology.


Humans are driving plants and animals to extinction at a rate not seen since the last great extinction, when an asteroid hit Earth and killed 75% of all species, including the dinosaurs. As many as a million species are threatened with demise during this human-caused mass extinction, according to a recent assessment.

In 2010, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreement set out to tackle the monumental challenge of reducing species loss by setting 20 objectives, to be achieved by 2020. These objectives, known as the Aichi Targets, include raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity and reducing pressure from major causes of species extinction, including farming, logging, mining and fossil fuel use. The treaty has been signed and adopted by 191 countries. The United States, Andorra, Iraq and Somalia have not agreed to the CBD.

Target 11 of the CBD set the goal of conserving 17% of the world’s land to improve biodiversity by 2020, specifying that these protected areas should be “well-connected.” So, how are we doing?


How Much Land Is Protected?

According to research by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), about 14.7% of land has been protected (an area roughly the size of South America and Mexico combined) as of 2017. Researchers estimated this area by using the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), a comprehensive global spatial dataset on marine and terrestrial protected areas, jointly maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). The research used only protected areas on land, although both marine and terrestrial protected areas are shown in the WDPA dataset on Resource Watch below.

The most protected ecoregions that are connected are within the Brazilian Amazon and in the high-elevation grasslands and shrublands of the Himalayan Plateau.

The research group also quantified how much protected area is connected within each country, as a measure of how close countries are to achieving the Aichi target. The map below shows how much of each country’s area is covered by protected lands that are connected.

Only about a third of countries meet the Aichi Target of having 17% of land covered by well-connected protected areas. The countries that have the most connected protected areas include Slovenia, Poland and Venezuela, who all have more than 37% of their land area in connected protected land.

Keep track of progress on protected areas with the World Database of Protected Areas on Resource Watch.

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